Innovation

Three effective ways to anger people in meetings


We've all found ourselves in meetings where things rapidly drift off track. Conversations drift off track. Ideas are conflated, strange concepts breed in the conversational undergrowth, and an enraged leader eventually tears off his shoe and pounds on the table. Eventually a dead horse comes wandering in so everyone can engage in some ritual flagellation.

If you take away from the above that I don't much like meetings, you'd be right. That said, I do know a thing or two about how to pull them back on track. I'm also occasionally known to be abrasive, frustrating, and pushy, so take what I have to say on this matter with a grain of salt.

Step One – Ruthlessly discard the irrelevant

It's amazing how easy it is for people to drift off course when presented with irrelevant details. We create the most confounding connections between two completely unrelated pieces of data, then defend that connection to the death. The arguments about these things can last for days, weeks, even years. Even bringing them up in meetings wastes time, and wasted time is wasted life.

My personal mistake here is not so much in the ruthless winnowing out of the irrelevant as it is in my forgetfulness about the emotions involved. People attach great personal importance to the things they pursue. Otherwise, why would they bother? Just because I don't agree with them, or want to stay focused on dealing with the meeting's “mission” doesn't mean that my goal is the goal of all the other meeting participants.

Step Two – Cut people off after the third iteration

Iterations are good in projects, better in writing, and absolutely horrible in meetings. Unfortunately we seem to have learned, somewhere, repetition is the key to success in all communications. If we repeat the same words often enough others will come to believe them simply because they hear them often enough.

My personal inclination is to cut people off after they have repeated themselves for the third time. Especially when the repetitions involve something wholly irrelevant, or even worse just discovered to be irrelevant, to the meeting's purpose. As a rule, though, people tend to like their iterations. It makes them feel like they have accomplished something when they say the same things over and over again. Taking away that feeling of accomplishment will not make you popular.

Step Three – Point at the elephant in the room

The truth, any truth, is rarely welcomed in a meeting. If someone in a meeting asks you if you can “speak truth to power”, what they really want to know is if you are dumb enough to point at the white elephant in the room and tell everyone about it. They already know about it; they just won't do anything about it for their own emotional, political, or practical reasons.

Me, I point at the elephant. There's a part of my personality which simply cannot, and will not, allow people to prattle on and on about something minor when we need to address the big issues. I'm working on keeping my big mouth shut, but it's kind of a struggle most days.

So there you have it - three lightning fast ways to tick people off in meetings. Use them with care.

69 comments
bernalillo
bernalillo

Occasionally I find that people who percieve my point as irrelevant dont fully understnad the issue. Sometimes too it's the elephant in the room which people seem to percieve as irrelevant. Advice; think twice before speaking and check your motivations at the door.

patclem
patclem

By Patrick Lencioni. It dissects horrible meetings in an interesting way. I'm a big Lencioni fan. I'm starting 3 Signs of a Miserable Job right now! Looks like a good read for managers (me.)

mross011
mross011

Seems some people are missing the point here. The ways others mentioned to accomplish overcoming the points you made are exactly what you are saying will anger people. I perceive the point here is; tact and concern for other people's feelings are what needs to be taken into consideration. Right or wrong the point is made. Is the best method to extend meetings out to avoid angering others? Maybe not, maybe so. What does matter in the end is that although you may be able to accomplish things faster and more effective using streamlined methods, at what cost are you paying. I believe most people (especially in IT) believe business is not a popularity contest and worrying about hurt feelings and what other people think is a non-important or at least secondary to making things happen. With experience (lots of it) and maturity hopefully people will understand your career, even in IT, is more about who likes you and who doesn???t. For example, when layoffs happen managers rarely consider who is doing the job, but more so who they like and don???t like. Seen this way to many times and been proved over and over again. If keeping your job doesn???t matter and you would rather be right than liked then the cost you pay can be severe. This change in attitude usually comes with maturity and the amount you have to lose. Some never get to this point, it takes all kinds but a balance can be beneficial. IT people have a hard time getting here.

hlhowell
hlhowell

What is the purpose of the meeting. If you are just stroking your ego (and that is what I get from the initial blog), then don't hold a meeting. If it is to get input, don't do these things! If you are the boss and you know everything, why do you need people in meetings? Just tell them what you want and only hire the yes men and women that will give it to you. You won't be successful, but you will have control. A group has a group intellect. It is the sum of their knowledge, skill, experience and communications. If you knock one of these legs off, you do not get the net benefit you are purchasing with your time, salary, and effort. I would like to know why so many people in this group seem to think that is good. Also if you do not want to hear from someone, why have them on your staff. For me, I either get heard, or go find something else to do with my time. I also listen to the folks around me. They have good ideas, and new techniques, or have found research that I have not. When you quit listening, you quit growing. Regards, Les H

Casey.Strickling
Casey.Strickling

Ready to Listen - People can't listen when they are talking, or want to be talking. If you let them finish their iterations they will be more ready to hear your point of view.

Casey.Strickling
Casey.Strickling

I can't honestly say what the point of this article really is. Obviously the author knows that these tactics will alienate people and do just as much to damage consensus as allowing the meeting to run off-track. So.. is this a help article or an admission that meetings foster the "none of us is as incompetent as all of us put together" axiom? I shrug in confusion. At the end of the day it's about project management and results. Meetings exist to build consensus and as a mechanism for alerting a group about their individual or group goals and accountability. They should be avoided whenever possible as you can't get anything done towards a project plan by sitting all the principles in a room for 30 minutes to an hour. Two cents. Personally, I try to schedule meetings towards the end of the day or near lunch time with the reminder at the bottom of the agenda that states "We are meeting for a purpose. The sooner we achieve consensus, the sooner we're out of the meeting." Sometimes you can't do that for large project kick offs or when there's a larger conversation at hand that really matters.. but for the everyday meeting approach it works really, really well. Best to all.

kate
kate

My husband sent me this article to read and I got a huge chuckle out of it. I live in a part of the country where people wouldnt know an elephant in the room if it sat on thier heads. They ignore it, dress it as thier old aunt martha, anything not to discuss it. Now being of Irish origin, I would go into the meeting, invite the elephant to sit down, point at it, disect it and ask its opinion so that we could get to the heart of the matter and move on. As you can probably guess my personnel folder was full of elephant droppings, but being good at my job just made me the elephant keeper. LOL

ernest.witmer
ernest.witmer

I was in a meeting in Texas that was supposed to be a 3 day meeting on no touch/light touch Imaging of our company PC's. They were trying to use ITIL as a way to get through the process. We were on day 2 and got stuck on the Mission statement for like 2 - 3 hours. The leader ask me why I was so quiet and if I had any input ..... well I pointed out the white elephant and that we needed to get the ball rolling on the actual project. The whole room became very quiet but half of the group came to me and thanked me at the next break.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Incredibly effective. So is eating a double-stuffed bean, cheese, and jalape??o burrito about two hours ahead of time.

hsylves
hsylves

I've come to realize that there are very few of us around - glad to meet someone else whose popularity level is less important than getting the facts out and cutting the fluff - we are destined to wander and shake things up wherever we need to.

pboucek
pboucek

I think that attempting one of those three things in a meeting, unless you are presiding over it, maybe akin to a political suicide. Therefore, advocating this behaviour may result in a negative personal feedback for that person

DanLM
DanLM

sorry, I hate meetings. dan

kelvin.anderson
kelvin.anderson

Words to live by for all of those that choose to whittle away my life in meetings. I shall use this as a guide with extreme prejudice.

The Truth
The Truth

Been there, done that, left.

ajones
ajones

If someone runs a meeting like an old-west stage coach driver running the horse team, (cutting people off, etc.) you may get where you wanted to be but hatred, disrespect, and opposition develops. The others got there with you and did not want to go there. While an agenda is ok, I really like going over action items it is amazing how many don't understand them the same way and it only comes to light when the written action is read out loud. What I have seen really help is to have people trained in facilitating meetings and teams. These facilitators should not be the lead manager but invited as a uninvolved (not in the project) facilitator to control the meeting. They risk nothing. As an outsider they are seen as an expert. They make sure all voices are heard and that time is not waisted dwelling on the same idea over and over. Their goal is to get productive output from the meeting. I have seen this in action. It produces more and better solutions. Of course most managers won't do this. First, it might cost a few cents, they would rather waste thousands in useless meeting time. Second, they have to give up the micro-management of meetings to someone else. They often don't like to give up any control. So this successful and proven method is little used. Alan

jadkaizen
jadkaizen

...Shannon's twin. You forgot to mention that in addition to being "occassionally" known as abrasive, frustrating, and pushy, we are also known to be down right rude. I guess we're just jerks. lol That's the price we pay getting things done while utilizing an otherwise time-wasting (but sometimes necessary) process in a bureaucracy. Be careful that you don't bite your tongue off while keeping your mouth shut! I had to get five stitches last week. ;-)

LocoLobo
LocoLobo

I like it but you always have to look at it from the other person's point of view. That's partly why we need meetings; to hear alternative views. For instance let's say I consider ISO/SOX to be the White Elephant, and say so. That's fine, but if the chairperson is following rule 2 they cut me off at the 3rd iteration. But I follow your 3rd rule and every meeting bring it up again. Now I am the problem. I agree problems need to be discussed, but you have to keep objective about it. Simply going on and on about it can close other people to your viewpoint rather than helping the situation. I'm not saying to give up, but to think before speaking. On the other hand, if someone keeps harping about the same thing maybe there really is a problem. GadgetGirl mentioned a supervisor who would sometimes keep only the effected people after the meeting to solve such problems. I like that approach. Good blog, made me think.

pigwings
pigwings

What a egotistical self-centered jerk. My way or the highway, right? You'll learn (maybe.)

Fatboy0341
Fatboy0341

It's kind of sickening how often the well-being of fragile egos is put ahead of getting to the heart of the matter and fixing a problem. Nobody has to like the truth - but it does need to be acknowledged and addressed in order to efficiently address an issue and move forward. I'm pretty guilty of being too abrasive and direct but I'm OK with that. It's part of my being a US Marine and I make no apologies for it. At least everyone I deal with knows where I stand and where I'm coming from. There are no false pretenses or reading between the lines with me. I am also able to be brutally honest about myself as well - nobody can throw that in my face either. At the end of the day - I don't have time to tiptoe around people who are too fragile or full of themselves. Let's get to the point, deal with whatever it is on our collective plates and move on. Life is too damn short to be any other way.

Round One from VA
Round One from VA

Nicely done. The worst meeting I have ever been so fortunate to attend ended up in an argument between two engineers over which definitions we should use. It completely side-tracked the meeting, kept the two engineers embroiled in an aside while the rest of us were attempting to complete the agenda, and wound up killing the meeting. After another couple weeks, the most boisterous of the two engineers quit the job and we went on our merry way. What's in a word anyway?

craigw
craigw

One of my favorites when I have a group I know will make for a difficult meeting by tearing apart every idea and digressing into endless what ifs, is to remove the chairs from the room before the meeting. I have found people are less comfortable pontificating and arguing after standing for a few minutes. Decisions get made and life moves on.

brandane
brandane

Don't you wish meetings could have a "Just do it" button? When somebody says, "Oh, we'll need to ring the vendor", or "I'll have to ask John in IT Support about that one". You hit the button, and Bing! they just do it. I take that approach, you shoud have seen the faces of the rest of the team when I whipped out my mobile, put it on speakerphone, rang the vendor there and then, asked the question, got the answer in seconds, rang off and we moved to the next topic on the minutes. Instead of waiting a week till the next meeting to have somebody say they forgot, or the vendor wasn't available, or...etc. Now, to develop a "Just do it" button for PC applications...no more "Are you sure?" boxes...

parthiv_13
parthiv_13

Its good thing to try on as it looks other side of communication and behavior of people in day to day life and relation. I would implement it with CARE to see how it works.

Cayble
Cayble

Its not just a question of ticking people off with pointing out the irrelevant, or insisting the elephant get the attention it needs when others appear ready to ignore it, there is an ongoing interest in maintaining the proper mix of self preservation combined with a need for genuine resolution to problems that need resolving. Clearly problems that cannot be lived with demand resolution at almost any price, as by definition a failure to resolve them is unlivable. Likewise burning bridges that cannot be lived without demand maintaining those bridges. So in the end, the only true and real conflict for an individual in such meetings would arise where a problem that required resolution in order to be livable would require burning a bridge that could not be lived without. Experience has shown that such a situation hardly ever exists in totality, and as such the clever participant in such meetings will learn how to dance between the raindrops and get as much accomplished as possible without causing alienation and discord that lead to unproductive hostilities and hurt feelings.

Minstrel Mike
Minstrel Mike

I use those techniques all the time. It keeps the meetings I'm in reasonably short and it keeps me from getting invited to many meetings. Some folks think face time is good. Depends on the office. If it is, attend meetings well. If the office is focused on getting things done, being ruthless truthful will enhance your rep and keep you out of pointless meetings. If you can clearly state at the beginning why any decision made here will be overturned or ignored by higher-ups, then (after 2 or 3 proof mtgs), folks quit wasting your time blowing hot air over irrelevant "decisions." Q1. What is the problem we are trying to solve? (if no problem, then adjourn. Info mtgs are better done thru e-mail). Q2. Are we the right folks to solve it?

tmurphy
tmurphy

Death by Meeting is excellent. Just how do you make it happen when it isn't your meeting? How do you get control of a meeting where you are not the lead? Just sit there and take it?

zd
zd

That way you don't get invited to fill chairs at useless meetings; when you do get invited it means you're really needed and people will listen to you opinions with more respect. Misbehaviour has a lot going for it... Unfortunately it means you don't get invited to client events and miss out on the free booze. Hey ho.

JamesRL
JamesRL

Remind me not to invite you home. James

KMacNeil
KMacNeil

I wholeheartedly agree. Using a pre-issued agenda and reviewing action items are two very useful tools. So is having a chairperson who is a trained facilitator and can keep the discussion on track. There are lots of ways to "cut people off" without offending them, though. You don't have to be hated or disrespected if you just respect others. For example, it can be very effective to simply say "let's table that discussion for another time". It shows respect for the importance of the topic, just not in your meeting. But don't forget the title of the original article ("Three effective ways to anger people in meetings"). Unfortunately, it appears that Shannon and twin Shane take pride in being rude to people.

chilean seabass
chilean seabass

I sat in meeting for one week for 3 to 4 hours a day defining requirements for a project. Once I was done building the business tool (4 iterations of the tool), the tools was presented with the requirements doc 3 days later and after it was presented to our VPs and C level folks. After reading the requirements, it was documentation that was reverse engineered. Why was I in the meeting? Just let me build the fricken' thing and do alphas. I will just continue to do self affrimations. I am a great person. I am nice and handsome... and dog gone it... people like me. Screw meetings...

shraven
shraven

You'll soon learn that 'my way or the highway' is a fundamentally flawed attitude because giving people the choice will always lead to some making the wrong choice. 'My way or my way' is a much more straight forward approach with much more predictable results.

StillWaters
StillWaters

You cover your unwillingness to respect the dignity of others by siting the need for efficiency. In business, we are not taking a hill or advancing on a beachhead, so your "marine" approach is out of place (and out of line). Working with others is like dancing with porcupines - it requires a certain skill and respect for others. IT's time for you to pull out a mirror and face why you REALLY behave this way - and then change. Everyone will benefit in the process.

shraven
shraven

We should work together. I didn't know I had so much in common with the Marines! When you want to smooth out the bumps, gritty sandpaper gets it done a lot faster than slick fine-coated unabrasive sandpaper. Maybe knowing you could die on your next mission brings out an appreciation for the truth over political correctness.

shraven
shraven

What IS in a word? Fucking good question. Want to wager on how long a word takes to get this post yanked? It's 10:14 EST 2-22-07.

renetjie
renetjie

brilliant idea! will definitely try it!

doogal123
doogal123

If you really want to keep a meeting short, schedule it 15 minutes before lunch. They will cut to the chase quick.

shraven
shraven

I do love the practicallity of this approach to the PICNIC problem...

glgruver
glgruver

A couple of alternatives; try this around the coffee machine or in a hallway. Works best with small groups. Another no-no is food items, especially donuts at a morning meeting. This is an invitation to stretch the meeting until lunchtime. Most annoying time for meetings are on a Friday afternoon.

kethridge
kethridge

Bravo! I've been in a small number of meetings where someone has done that and it really throws the group for a loop initially, but is extremely effective.

warezcrc
warezcrc

I have tried your method and it seems as if people don't care as long as management (insert your stupid boss's name here) says it needs to be done to some Joe. Or your stupid boss's boss decides it needs to be done. It seems to me that a clear lack of management skills (micro management) is missing or people need BALLS (ouveries for women) if you prefer that expression. But most of all todays problem is all these ISO/SOX and whatnot certifications cripple the organizations. Nowdays, I just point out the fact, and then don't give a damn if they think they have better things to do or wait for the bosses boss to decide. Life tends to break you down.

Ian Thurston
Ian Thurston

If you're discussing irrelevencies, suffering through too much repetition, and avoiding the real issues, there IS a problem: the chair is not doing his or her job. Which to keep the meeting on topic, on time, and (most of the time) grounded in reality. If you're NOT the chair, then grabbing the reins is guaranteed to make you enemies (you seem happy with that). Worse, it will make it MORE likely that the meeting won't work in future. So you are now part of the problem. If the chair isn't wielding power, request they do so while in the meeting, and do it formally. "Hey chairman, we're getting caught up in repetition here. We need you to reign it in." If you're NOT the chair, then don't weaken the position by taking his/her job. Insist that he or she do their job. Then you can get on with yours. If you ARE the chair ... get lessons! If the chair doesn't have the power to point out the obvious and to cut off needless repetition and rambling, your meeting will go nowhere ... slowly. But the meeting is probably cosmetic in that case, set up for appearance sake, but mostly a hot air self-love-in. Go ahead, ruin it. If the meeting is meant to accomplish something and you can't get the chair to BE a chair, complain about the structure of the meeting to someone who can do something about it. Make it clear that the problem is not with the attendees, but with how it's being run. Procedures for running meetings evolved in no small part to prevent the Lone Ranger from hijacking the agenda in part. And you, Minstrel Mike, appear to be riding a horse called Silver.

MarkLomas
MarkLomas

Psychologists believe that people fall into various different personality types, and that the type of meeting you regard as successful depends upon your personality type. One such model divides personalities into four primary types. If you hold a meeting with somebody of the same personality type then you are likely to take a similar approach and will both be happy. However, there is a 75% chance that the other person will have a different personality type to you, so there is a 75% chance that they won't like the way you want to run a meeting. As an oversimplified example, imagine somebody who likes short, tightly-focused meetings who comes across somebody who likes brainstorming. How can they conduct a meeting that satisfies both of them? The above considers the simplest case of a meeting between two people. Now imagine a room full of people. What is the chance that all of them will like the way you run a meeting?

Locrian_Lyric
Locrian_Lyric

You do realize that you berated him for not respecting the dignity of others while demonstrating zero respect for him, don't you?

shraven
shraven

Or censored, I guess. Immediately, it seems. Which is another problem with meetings. The censorship of common sense because it offends one of the power players in the meeting. We can't talk about the real problem because it's Joe's area and he'll be offended, so we'll talk about every other possibility except the likely one so as not to offend anyone until we absolutely have to. Evne then we'll talk around the solution so as not to make it appear to be Joe's fault.

wfroese
wfroese

And here I thought that your comment 'noble solution' would be about the Queen of England having Her meetings with the ministers standing...

shraven
shraven

Oh, you meant the seats, not the meeting chairs...

bnewsom
bnewsom

On the few occasions I agree to chair a meeting (the bane of civilization), I never start a meeting until 4:00 or 4:30 PM. It's amazing how people's desire to leave on time curtails their usual habits of pontificating, digressing, blowing smoke, and otherwise wasting time.

midnightriderz
midnightriderz

Far too many meetings are time wasted. The number one problem I see is a lack of skills with the chairperson. Second is the one individual determined to take over. I absolutely refuse to waste my time. I have a life outside the four walls called "Corporate America". ...and people ask why I get up and leave. :O)

shraven
shraven

Ah yes, the dreaded PICNIC error - Problem In Chair, Not In Committee.

akapinos
akapinos

People are rarely willing to listen or do what you need them to do if you berate or belittle them. While StillWaters has a point, it could be said in a kinder, more respectful manner. That will initiate conversation rather than creating a defensive attitude. Stripping anyone of their dignity in the workplace is only grounds for conflict, low morale and poor productivity. And no, that is not the pansy way to do things. The pansy way to do things is to boss people around and make them feel like peons. A strong person/manager will uplift those around them.

Locrian_Lyric
Locrian_Lyric

I go into a late-day meeting peeved, as do most people I know. What you gain in efficiency, you more than make up for in loss of morale. you don't need to treat people like children to get efficency from them. A brief meeting is always better than a long one, breaks are productive as well.

Phil Haney
Phil Haney

This comes up a lot when doing tech support (and sometimes when I'm coding, too): Problem Exists Between Keyboard And Chair.

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